Bird eats fish? No big deal. Fish eats bird by jumping from a lake to grab it, mid-flight, and drag it back into the water? YES. That is amazing. For decades, African tigerfish have been rumored to leap from the water in active, predatory pursuit of low-flying birds. Now, for the first time ever, scientists have caught this remarkable behavior on film.
Did you see that? Watch it again. And again. It's incredible, almost hard to wrap your head around. This is a fish that hunts, pursues, and predates upon a flying animal. And not just any animal; the bird in the footage is a swallow – a creature known for its speed and deft aerial abilities. And yet, in this and several other now-documented instances, the tigerfish prevails. Evolution's fiendish creativity clearly knows no bounds.
This is the first confirmed record of a freshwater fish preying on birds in flight, the [team, led by Nico Smit, director of the Unit for Environmental Sciences and Management at North-West University in Potchefstroom, South Africa,] reports in the Journal of Fish Biology. Rumours of such behaviour by the African tigerfish (Hydrocynus vittatus), which has been reported as reaching one metre in length, have circulated since the 1940s. But Smit says that his team was "never really convinced by the anecdotal reports". So, when they set out to study of the migration and habitat use of these animals in a South African lake in the Mapungubwe National Park, near the border with Botswana and Zimbabwe, they were not necessarily looking for fish flying out of the water.
Nevertheless, during their time at the lake, the researchers saw as many as 20 successful fish strikes on barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) every day. These ranged from pursuits by fish at the surface, followed by leaps, to direct attacks from deeper water.
The researchers' findings also include the lovely scientific figure pictured below, and are accessible here, in the Journal of Fish Biology.